LOUISVILLE — Tyler Ulis is the shortest player on easily the tallest team in college basketball.
This time of year, however, he is expected to be among those making a big impact.
You know what the experts always say about the NCAA Tournament. It's all about the guard play.
And with unbeaten and No. 1 overall seed Kentucky preparing to open its run against Hampton on Thursday night in the KFC Yum Center, the 5-foot-9 freshman from Chicago has become a very important guard.
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"He's playing really well right now," said Dakari Johnson, UK's sophomore center. "So is Andrew."
The dynamic duo of Andrew Harrison and Ulis is playing so well, in fact, that John Calipari has chosen at various points to throw the platoons to the wind and play the No. 1 point guard and the No. 2 point guard on the floor at the same time.
Example: The just-completed SEC Tournament, where Kentucky added three more victories to its now 34-0 record. In UK's tourney opener against Florida, the veteran Harrison and the rookie Ulis each played 32 minutes, meaning their time on the court had to seriously overlap.
They combined to make six of 13 shots, including two of five three-pointers; score 16 points; dish six assists; commit just one turnover, and make five steals.
Andrew ended up joining brother Aaron on the all-tournament team, and Ulis ended up playing the most minutes he played all season.
He played 24 minutes with six points and six assists (with two turnovers) in the semifinal slap-down of Auburn. Ulis then played a season-high 34 minutes in the championship game against Arkansas, scoring eight points with six assists and one turnover.
"He just slows the game down for us," said freshman Trey Lyles. "He and Andrew both do a great job of that."
There is a reason experts often base a team's post-season chances on the skill level of the players who have the ball in their hands most. Think Connecticut's Shabazz Napier in 2014, Louisville's Russ Smith in 2013, Connecticut's Kemba Walker in 2011.
This isn't to say a guard needs to be a team's best player — center Anthony Davis was UK's numero uno in 2012 — but high- level guard play is considered essential.
In the three Nashville games, Ulis played 90 minutes, scoring 21 points with 16 assists compared to just four turnovers. He also made six steals.
"I'm very comfortable, especially after the last tournament," Ulis said Wednesday in the UK locker room at the Yum Center. "I've gotten more comfortable and I just feel like I really know what Cal wants me to do. I'm going to run the team, and bring energy and play my game."
What's interesting about Ulis is his control. Players his size are often eager to prove they can play with the bigger boys, forcing the moment. Not Ulis.
"I've always been a distributor," he said. "If I have to score, I will. In high school and AAU, I had to do that. Now I have a lot of weapons around me. There's a lot of guys who can score besides me."
One of those weapons is Andrew Harrison, the starting point guard. With Ulis on the floor, Harrison can play shooting guard. In Sunday's finals against Arkansas, Harrison scored 15 points in just 18 minutes.
"When teams try to press us, we have two ball handlers," Ulis said. "We can both penetrate, facilitate, and then he can be off the ball a little and score."
"I think we play together fine," Andrew said Wednesday. "We feed off each other. Whoever has the ball, the other one runs. We just play."
Did playing together take practice?
"Nah," Harrison said. "We're both basketball players. It wasn't a hard transition."
In Harrison, Kentucky has a point guard who took the team to the national championship game last season.
In Ulis, the Cats have a point guard who might be playing his best basketball of the season.
This time of a year, that's a great combination to have.